Does Your Title Matter?

Public Relations firm GolinHarris (who handles accounts for Dow Chemical, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald's, Toyota Motor and Wal-Mart among others) is reorganizing.

This is not normally the kind of stuff I write about because, quite frankly, their reorganization is not going to help you in your career unless you work there. But there is something interesting--not only are they restructuring things, they are giving people new job titles. The New York Times Reports

The changes include the disappearance of traditional generalist titles like account executive and account supervisor, which will be replaced by new, specialist titles like strategist and catalyst.
Oy. And just what does a catalyst do? I turned to the geniuses over at Dictionary.com to answer that question, and they came through! They define catalyst as
  1. Chemistry. a substance that causes or accelerates a chemical reaction without itself being affected.
  2. something that causes activity between two or more persons or forces without itself being affected.
  3. a person or thing that precipitates an event or change: His imprisonment by the government served as the catalyst that helped transform social unrest into revolution.
Hmmm, now tell me exactly what the job description of someone with a "Catalyst" title is. Can't do it, can you? I guess you could argue that this person causes the change in how much people are aware of Walmart and Walmart's newest blah, blah, blah. See, isn't that helpful?

Every once in a while companies get these bees in their bonnets and decide that everyone needs different titles. (And, honestly, it seems to come from somebody in HR who doesn't have quite enough to do, which is ironic because this person's counterparts in staffing hate stupid titles.) I, once, was the recipient of such a title. Here is my worst job title ever: Functional Lead, HR Transition. Do you have any idea what my job responsibilities were? Of course you don't, unless you are one of the many people I helped "transition" out of the company over the years. A better title would have been "Severance Lead" or "Layoff coordinator" or "Person You Should Hide From Because She's Probably Got Your Name On Her List." Those would have actually reflected what I did.

And that's the problem with bad titles. No one that doesn't know what you do, can figure out what it is that you do. Now, most of the time, this makes no difference. After all, when people asked me what I did for a living I said, "I'm in Human Resources," and if they actually wanted more of an explanation, I said, "I handle layoffs." My resume describes what I do, but a lazy hiring manager or recruiter couldn't just scan my titles and figure out what in the heck I did.

And then there are the fights. Is a project "lead" better than a project "manager" or a project "coordinator"? Which title would you prefer? Deputy Director, Associate Director or Senior Manager? Which one is higher up the food chain? Does the term "manager" always mean that you managed people, or does it mean you managed a function? And what about "Assistant to the President." At some companies, this is an administrative role that includes picking up dry cleaning. At others, this is a position for up-and-coming MBAs who are making six figure salaries and will be promoted shortly into director roles. But you can't tell from the title.

And this is why I tend to roll my eyes when people get bent out of shape over a title. It's not what your title is that really matters, it's what you do and what your compensation is that you should be fighting for. However, I admit, that because we keep salary information so secretive, people have to use title as a surrogate for how much responsibility you have. If you're the new hire and you get introduced as "Senior Director of Product Safety" people are going to assume that you are much more knowledgeable and powerful than someone introduced as "Catalyst, Product Safety."

And for this reason, could those of you who think up titles please come up with ones that actually reflect what it the person actually does. It helps everyone figure out what is going on.

What is your most ridiculous title? Or, what title have you had that absolutely did not reflect your actual work?

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Have a workplace dilemma? Send your questions to EvilHRLady@gmail.com.
Photo by andrewrennie, Flickr cc 2.0